Science fiction–the best of science fiction–is neither science nor fiction. It is about how humans react to change. The writers of this genre that will live on through their words understood this very well. Isaac Asimov knew that Hari Seldon was more important than psycho-history, Orson Scott Card knew that Andrew Wiggin was more important than The Game.
Sadly, if almost inevitably, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway make every mistake ever committed by bad science fiction writers in their recent piece “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future.” Polemics? Check. Ignoring the laws of physics? Check. Not researching the doom they foretell? Double check. It’s like reading a bad translation of Bakunin. Before and after their bad-luck curses on Western Civilization and its prospects (due in equal parts to the adoption of neo-liberal economics and the neglect of climate change) they chart their dreary course through the devastation of the planet with a rather smug, I-told-you-so air. Droughts! Heat waves! Dengue fever! Food riots in the U.S.! Martial law! And–our poor northern neighbors–a merger between the U.S. and Canada.
But that’s only the start. The return of the Black Death (apparently all our penicillin dried up). The Sagan Venusian Effect! (My computer is running low on exclamation points–undoubtedly another unwanted effect of climate change.)
It’s bad enough that they blame Hayek, who I always thought was a decent actress. They end with the worst possible nightmare–“a vigorous intellectual discussion” of whether we’re now grown up enough to be given back our democracy.
Let’s try another version.
“Looking back on the 21st Century, we are struck by one single phenomenon–a return to science, its norms and precepts, a move that accelerated global growth and put behind us the shibboleth of scientism, the corruption of science to serve propaganda.
Although numerous instances could be cited (GMOs, vaccine hysteria, etc.), the obvious standout is climate change. The political movement that grabbed the torch from unsuspecting scientists threatened to subsume research under its umbrella, take uncounted billions (which was real money in those days) from citizens in taxes and better causes in general, and condemn half the planet to live with the propagandists’ jackboots in their faces–forever.
Claiming to be the voice of the science, they ushered scientists and science off the stage so they could continue their apocalyptic tirades. Moving their adherents into posts of power they pronounced themselves first, the mainstream and then the only legitimate voices in the discussion.
They fortunately did not take into account the democratizing power of the internet (Remember the internet?). No matter how loud and profane the propagandists’ tirade became, people began to notice that people were not sickened by GMOs, that herd immunity was a valuable social good and that the climate refused to follow the dictates of the ever-angrier thugs.
The climate indeed warmed, and human emissions of greenhouse gases did indeed contribute. But the warming occurred at a lower rate than the propagandists’ heralded, and when they tried to cook the books the way they said humanity was cooking the planet, people noticed. When decades passed in the early part of the century without warming, despite impressive emissions of CO2, again, people noticed.
Real scientists had pointed out the dangers (more modest than the propagandists would permit consideration of) and when seas rose, ice melted and the patterns of rainfall changed, seawalls were built, crops were changed and people moved a bit inland. There were storms, drought and heatwaves. But these had been with us always and are still with us today. However they did not increase in size or severity–although they sometimes caused more financial losses in an increasingly wealthy world.
The Emperor wore no clothes and the propagandists were defeated. But more important than humanity’s victory in the case of hysterical claptrap about apocalyptic climate change, the propagandists unwittingly gave humanity a much greater gift.
For within their diatribes about human emissions of CO2 were thinly veiled attacks on neo-liberal economic traditions, the same traditions that had rescued hundreds of millions from poverty even while being attacked as pitiless and destructive. And when the propagandists were thoroughly discredited, it rescued the economic path that has brought us to a much better world today.
And so not only were the poor free to catch up with the rich, the scientists were freed from the prison of climate studies to return to the biotechnology that has given us longevity, the robotics that has given us leisure and the nanotechnology that has made our world a park.”
The enemy’s gate is down.